One week from today, thousands of IBM customers and solution providers will be filing into the giant halls and seminar rooms at the Dolphin Resort at DisneyWorld for IBM Connect 2014. Each will bring their own agenda. Some will want to learn more deeply about the technology that they are responsible every day. Others will be want to fine tune programming skills so that they can do their jobs better. Then there are those like myself who have a very specific wishlist of things to see, hear, and touch. I call my list “reasons to be cheerful” (with all apologies to Ian Dury) since it’s full of hopeful anticipation of the new, improved, and interesting.
- Watson. Either Watson will herald a new age of cognitive computing or the biggest bucket of hype since Enterprise 2.0. I’m tending toward the former over the latter. From what I’ve seen so far, IBM has found a way to commercialize cognitive computing – a programming paradigm built on probabilistic learning algorithms instead of deterministic preordered coding – and is now learning to leverage it for real-world applications. If all goes well, Watson will bring advanced pattern matching and machine learning to the masses via a cloud version of the technology. One thing though; Please stop calling it “cogcomp”! That what a cat sounds like when it coughs up a hairball.
- Enterprise Social Networks. Last year was when IBM blamed the victim. At IBM Connect 2013, IBM made the suggestion that if a company didn’t derive value from its enterprise social network it was because it failed to properly change its culture. That was universally panned and rightly so. The tool is there to enhance the culture not the other way around. This year I expect a more practical approach with stories that show when it makes sense to deploy a social network in a company – and perhaps when it does not. One can always hope.
- Mobile. With enhanced leadership, including IBM veteran marketer Ed Brill, and a bunch of acquisitions over the past year and a half, IBM’s mobile portfolio has continued to expand into one of the most comprehensive in the industry. They are truly a mobile app developer’s best friend these days if you like secure and robust apps. I’m hoping to see it all come together into a comprehensive program.
- Analytics. Big data is a weird thing with IBM. On the one hand they have some of the grand dames of the analytics segment in their portfolio – SPSS is easily older than most of the programmers and statisticians that use it – but were behind on pulling it together into more user friendly offerings. Not true anymore. While not always as pretty as the upstarts, the IBM analytics products are broader and deeper than almost anyone else in the industry. The question is “Can they pull all the pieces together in a way that the average IT professional or data scientist thinks of IBM first?”
- Scott Adams. Of course I want to see the creator of Dilbert! Anyone with any shred of geek cred will climb mountains to hear from the voice of the average techie. Be there or you’re not square.
This is a year that IBM can do two things that will make a difference: get real about technologies like mobile and enterprise social networks and show some real mind bending Watson demos. That will galvanize customers and partners while making getting the market excited about the new direction the company has taken with cognitive computing.